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Guest post: Emerging scientists at AAAS annual meeting are essential to the future

This week, Seattle is hosting the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, the world’s largest general scientific gathering. Our university is proud to be a sponsor and host for this extraordinary gathering of the scientific community, and both Provost Mark Richards and I are excited to take part in the proceedings. To learn more about the work of some of the youngest scientists participating, I hope you’ll read Provost Richard’s guest blog post below.


Among the 10,000 people attending the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science this week are 150 emerging scientists. They are scientists who are finding ways to treat Alzheimer’s Disease, and they are designing a water filter to remove pharmaceuticals using nanomaterials. They are accelerating oil spill remediation by using polymers to destabilize emulsions, and they are improving the efficiency of the bicycle.

What I find especially remarkable is that they are conducting and presenting their research in between swim practices, orchestra performances and AP test study sessions. They are high school students from across the country, including 10 from Washington state, who will be inducted into the American Junior Academy of Science (AJAS), in recognition of their outstanding scientific research. And I am honored to welcome them Friday morning when they will join 40 or so established scientists for breakfast and discussion.

As I look at the list of high school students attending the breakfast, I am impressed by the number of young women and students of color. We all know that STEM fields have been dominated by white men for too long. Thankfully, that is changing. Pipeline programs are introducing students from diverse backgrounds to science. Middle school girls visit labs and learn about career options through programs such as Girls in Engineering, Math and Science, sponsored by the Seattle chapter of the Association for Women in Science

I know from the work of my own STEM diversity research group that a significant element to the success of women and minorities in science is the culture of their academic programs in college – students need to experience a sense of professional belonging, or identity, but they also need to experience academic structures that encourage them to pursue their highest aspirations, to take leadership roles in tackling daunting problems, and to publish and be recognized for their work. We especially need for more women and minorities to become professors at our research universities, where their under-representation is most acute.

The theme of the AAAS conference is “Envisioning Tomorrow’s Earth.” As I consider the young scientists who are attending this week, I like to think of it as “envisioning the future of science.” If we are to confront and solve our world’s biggest challenges – climate change, population health, social and economic inequity – we need to involve people with a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, experiences and ideas. The talent and interest is there, and now it’s up to us in the academy to support young researchers so they can get to work.